This is a great way to make oatmeal a little more special without making it much more work. It’s cooked the same way as regular steel-cut oats, except pumpkin and sugar are stirred in part way through cooking. The only extra step is a fun one – playing with fire.
The biggest difference between brûléeing a solid custard like crème brûlée compared to brûléeing oatmeal is that oatmeal is wetter. This means the sugar has a tendency to dissolve into the oatmeal. Fortunately, once you pour the oatmeal into serving dishes, a skin starts to form on top after a few minutes, providing a dryer surface for the sugar to rest before it’s caramelized.
Because of the crackly sweet layer on top of the oatmeal, only half a tablespoon per serving is necessary stirred in the oatmeal itself. That’s enough to bring out the flavor of the pumpkin and still provide a little constrast with the topping. Warm and soothing, spiced and sweet, this is a perfectly comforting cold weather breakfast.
I’ve had better luck brûléeing sugar with larger crystals, which is why demerara is recommended. Turbinado or sanding sugar should work too. Without any special sugars, an even mixture of granulated and brown sugar has worked well for me in the past. It’s difficult to estimate how much you’ll need, as it will depend on the size and shape of the bowls.
2½ cups water
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
demerara sugar, or a mix of white sugar and brown sugar, for topping
1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the water and milk until simmering.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the oats and cook, stirring constantly, until the oats start to smell like butterscotch, 2-3 minutes. Add the spices and continue to stir constantly until the spices are fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the oat/spice mixture into the milk and water.
3. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes. Add the pumpkin, brown sugar, and salt, and continue to simmer lightly, stirring occasionally, until the oatmeal is thick and creamy. Immediately pour the oatmeal into serving bowls. Set aside for 5-10 minutes for a skin to form on top.
4. Working with one bowl at a time, distribute an even layer of the demerara sugar over the oatmeal. With a butane torch, immediately caramelize the sugar. Repeat with the remaining bowls; serve immediately.